The animals we eat, milk, experiment upon, turn into apparel, and use for entertainment or as beasts of burden, are very like us in many ways. Most of them are mammals, and closely related to us in evolutionary terms. They have nervous systems and behaviours similar to our own, and they experience fear, pain and suffering as we do. There is no need for us to twist ourselves in knots trying to determine how much they suffer or whether they suffer more or less than we do. That they do suffer in a comparable way is all we need to know.

But what do I mean by suffering? It is a concept open to various interpretations, so to ensure that we are all on the same page, here are three examples of what I would define as actions that would cause severe suffering in humans:

  • having your head methodically caved in with a hammer.

  • being held by your ankles by someone who is about to drop you off the top of a tall building.

  • being kept in solitary confinement, and slowly driven insane through social deprivation.

Each of these scenarios conjures up levels of pain, shock, terror and mental agony, which, thankfully, most people never experience, but which the animal-abuse industries inflict on their victims every day. Isn’t that worth thinking about? In fact, if we all understood that, and acted accordingly, there wouldn’t be any need for further comment and I could stop writing right here. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.

(At this point I feel compelled to diverge a little and acknowledge the many thousands of men, women and children around the world who are suffering in similar ways at the hands of other people. From the concentration camps, torture chambers, and inhumane prisons of the more barbaric regimes, to the use of solitary confinement in supposedly ‘advanced’ countries, revolting forms of torture are being used everywhere we look. And while it is relatively easy for us to reduce the scale of animal abuse by choosing not to give the perpetrators our financial support, it’s a different matter when it comes to the lives of people falsely imprisoned, tortured and murdered in other countries. Often there is very little we can do to help them beyond supporting human rights organisations like Amnesty International and pressuring our government to take action. Just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but results will often be harder to come by. It is important to bear in mind that there is really no difference between the suffering of these people and that of our animal cousins and all are equally deserving of our efforts to end to their torment.)

Where, one may rightly ask, is the evidence that the animals down at the slaughter house suffer as greatly as I have suggested? Fortunately (although I hesitate to use that word), there is a great deal of evidence to support this claim and I would encourage anyone who has any doubts to start an online investigation by keying animal abuse by the meat industry into a search engine and following the links. You will be horrified by where it takes you.

Or if you want to take a shortcut to a few selected sites, and have the stomach for it:

  • look at these young pigs going to the gas chamber in this Australian abattoir: vii

  • see what happens to these calves on this one: viii

  • listen to the vegan activist, Gary Yourofsky: a brilliant public speaker.

  • look at the documentary Cowspiracy (also available on Netflix)

  • follow the link below to gain a different insight into the dairy industry x

Or you might wish to read these books (or at least a few chapters from them):

  • Animal Liberation – the seminal work of Peter Singer.xi

  • Farmageddon: The True Cost of Meat by Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott. xii

  • Eating Animals by John Safran Foer. xiii

This is just a light sprinkling of what is available but I know most people won’t open any of these links, or the books, because getting up close and personal with what is being done to the animal victims in this story is not easy. So for those who cannot bear to witness the stark reality of what they are throwing their financial support behind, you will just have to take my word for it—it is all very dark and it makes you question the very ethical bases upon which our societies rest.

If you are one of those who think your country has good animal welfare protection laws and that they are being competently enforced on your behalf, think again. Governments all over the world are universally doing an appallingly bad job of protecting the animals and that won’t change as long as vested interest groups, such as the meat industry, are able to stifle the voice of reason.

In Australia, for example, it is disgraceful beyond words that, in 2018, the live export trade, which ships farm animals to countries where they are treated with barbaric cruelty, is being expanded, instead of terminated. As a result of government policy, cattle, sheep and goats are shipped out, under inhumane conditions that will kill and injure many of them before they even reach their destination, to places where they are stabbed in the face with knives; bashed on the head with hammers; slowly hacked to death with multiple blows to their throats; locked in the boots of cars in forty degree heat, and more.

And what makes it all the more unforgivable is that it is done with the full knowledge of the Australian farmers who raise the animals, in cahoots as they are with the exporters, and the state and federal governments. These groups have been told, and shown, time and time again for decades, what is happening to these animals and yet they have done nothing apart from occasionally paying lip-service to the animal welfare lobby. All the while they clamber for live exports to continue because they make a few bucks out of it. One can understand why political party hacks and their poll-driven leaders don’t have the moral fibre to oppose live exports, but you would think that the farmers themselves would refuse to send their animals overseas in these circumstances. But no, they happily wash their hands of any responsibility once the truck, loaded with those whom they have betrayed, passes through their front gates.

The acts of cruelty associated with live exports are well-documented. They’ve been known about for years. We only need to look at some of the reports from Dr Lynn Simpson, an Australian vet, who took fifty-seven trips onboard live export ships.xiv And to compound matters, we have very little chance of preventing the acts of extreme cruelty towards animals, which are daily occurrences in countries to which Australia exports its livestock, despite the government’s pretence that we do. This fact alone is more than sufficient reason to stop exporting animals immediately and slaughter them in this country. Not that what happens within Australia’s domestic meat industry is much better, but the evidence suggests it is the lesser of two evils, particularly if the sea journey is removed.

Just before I published this essay (June 2018), the footage below was shown on Australian television. Everyone should take a look at it.

It was filmed inside a ship taking sheep from Australia to the Middle East in August 2017. And remember, this is standard practice, not an exception. It is what happens when greedy, cruel people treat animals as commodities and no amount of public hand-wringing or policy tinkering by government ministers will change this. There is only one solution when it comes to the live export trade. It must be stopped immediately, and forever. I should add, the Australian government continues to allow these ships to operate, albeit with mildly altered conditions, and the animals are still suffering terribly. To their great shame our political class hasn’t had the guts to stop this ghastly business despite being presented with any amount of conclusive evidence for decades. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister say enough is enough, because no amount of financial losses by either farmers or those others profiting from the live export trade, or fear of being sued by these people, or losing votes in rural seats, can in any way justify allowing its existence for a moment longer. Moving decisively to end it would be what real leadership looks like. And certainly, it would take a bit of spine. But what is the point of striving to lead if when you finally make it you’re only going to spread yourself like a blob of ectoplasm with equal amounts hanging down each side of the fence?